Simon Rattle, the British former conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, will return to Germany to take up the baton with Munich’s Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2023, in a major blow to the classical music scene in Britain.
The move, just three years after he returned to Britain to direct the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), comes as musicians complain that Brexit has limited their professional horizons, with new visa requirements making it harder to perform to Europe’s music-hungry public.
“My reasons for accepting the role of Principal Conductor in Munich are entirely personal, enabling me to better manage the balance of my work and be close enough to home to be present for my children in a meaningful way,” Rattle said in a statement posted on the LSO website.
“I love the LSO,” added Rattle, who turns 66 this month and is instantly recognisable with his shock of white curly hair.
Rattle’s wife, Czech soprano Magdalena Kozena, and their three children are based in Germany.
Some British media said the conductor was dissatisfied with Britain’s political direction of travel in the era of Brexit and with a lack of progress on plans to build a world-class concert hall in London.
The LSO is currently based at the Barbican Centre, considered by music lovers to have too small a stage and flawed acoustics.
In his statement, Rattle said he still planned to carry out major projects before leaving London.
Rattle, who was born in Liverpool, shot to prominence in the 1980s when he guided Britain’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from provincial obscurity to international renown.
An appointment to run the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s leading orchestras, followed in 2002. Rattle announced in 2015 that he would return to London, a year before Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
In his last appearance as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in summer 2018, on an outdoor stage in a forest, he expressed sorrow at the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
“Hopefully, Brexit won’t last ‘Brexeternally’,” he told the audience at the time, before leading the orchestra in a bittersweet medley of British patriotic favourites including Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 – Land of Hope and Glory – and the theme to 1970s sketch show Monty Python.
He and the LSO reached a global audience of hundreds of millions during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, performing Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack with a memorable contribution from comedy character Mr Bean.
“He stands like no other for finding new ways of getting people enthused about music,” said Ulrich Wilhelm, head of the Bavarian Public Broadcaster.